Why We Practice Aikido

By: Mary Heiny Sensei

There are so many demands on our time these days--so many activities, obligations, and distractions. Why then should we spend our time on Aikido? What could we hope to gain that would be worth the commitment that we make to our training? For some folks, especially those who are new to Aikido, the answer may be a simple one: to gain skill in self-defense, to get exercise, to socialize. But Aikido can be so much more if it is practiced as O’Sensei intended. When he developed Aikido, O’Sensei was not simply trying to create a new system of techniques that represented his own personal blend of sword, ju-jitsu and ascetic practices.

Rather he constructed a path for each of us to become strong yet compassionate, be motivated by mutual benefit not winning and to be a source of harmony in the world rather than discord. Although many people would like to reach this state of being, most of us don’t have any idea where to start. Aikido is a gateway to such personal transformation because it touches on all aspects of who we are and how we relate to others.

Hikitsuchi Sensei, with whom I studied in the early 70’s told me that O'Sensei taught that Aikido nurtures each person in five areas:

  1. Understanding KI (ki-iku)
  2. Increasing our knowledge and wisdom through study and experience (chi-iku)
  3. Strengthening and purifying our bodies (tai-iku)
  4. Increasing our understanding of ethical behavior (toku-iku)
  5. Creating social sensibilities (jo-shiki)

While it is obvious how Aikido could contribute to the understanding of ki and the strengthening our bodies, it may not be as clear how it helps with wisdom, ethics or social skills. The reason Aikido can provide access to these attributes is that all Aikido techniques are practiced in relationship to another person and the lessons are experienced holistically by both body and mind. In practicing Aikido, for example, you experience the difference between harmoniously moving with your partner and being forced to move against your will. And when you change who starts the technique you can learn to feel the difference between creating harmony with your partner and forcing your partner to conform to your plan.

The emotional response to these situations is real and immediate. In one case, your partner will be relaxed and cooperative and in the other he or she will become instantly frustrated and will fight against you instinctively. In Aikido, you can explore this scenario over and over again and you can learn how to cultivate physical techniques and mental states that make harmony possible. Moreover, you can take this understanding with you when you leave the dojo and use in your daily life.

It is, however, possible to practice Aikido without learning these more advanced lessons. You can show up, learn techniques, and even become quite skilled in throwing your partner and miss the whole point of Aikido. The key to moving beyond a surface understanding lies in how you approach your training and your partners. I feel lucky that I was taught early in my studies that the goal of each practice and each technique was to achieve these higher objectives. In the collection of videos that I am currently making, therefore, I will try to pass on this teaching and help you to find the Aikido in yourself.